Two Chicago-based candidates, both backed by political heavy hitters, are vying for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. Here's a closer look at the race.
Two Chicago-based candidates, both backed by political heavy hitters, are vying for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives.
The race for the 26th District Democratic primary currently sees candidate Christian Mitchell with the edge over Kenny Johnson in both money and endorsements. A poll released from Johnson’s campaign last week, however, showed their candidate with a 29-21 lead with potential voters.
Most recently, Mitchell’s campaign has earned $157,196, which includes an endorsement and about $50,000 from SEIU*.
On Thursday, the 25-year-old University of Chicago graduate also earned endorsements from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said in a press release that he’s throwing his support behind Mitchell citing the candidate’s dedication to “fiscal responsibility.” Earlier today, the candidate was also endorsed by the Chicago Tribune.
Meanwhile, Kenny Johnson a 41-year-old marketing and advertising veteran has earned about $62,000 in campaign donations and endorsements from his former boss, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2), Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), the Chicago Teachers Union, and AFSCME.
Mitchell’s list of political backers, which includes Gov. Pat Quinn, however, has grown larger throughout the campaign while Johnson lags behind. Mitchell has become that rare candidate who’s been able to balance labor and business. He’s grabbed endorsements from multiple labor unions, including two electricians’ locals, in addition to the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.
Mitchell, who grew up in Maywood, a western Chicago suburb, has also earned an endorsement from former 26th District Representative-turned-alderman Will Burns (4th), who gave up the seat last year.
Johnson ran an unsuccessful campaign against Burns for this same seat in 2008, but said the two are still friends.
But this race isn’t only about money and connections in Illinois’ narrow 26th District, which covers a section of Chicago stemming from the Magnificent Mile along North Michigan Avenue all the way south to parts of Bronzeville. Since both candidates are Democrats, it’s expected that the two would have similar views on some issues.
In separate interviews with the Chicago Tribune both said they support gay marriage in Illinois, they’ve each called for eliminating regional superintendents of education, and both candidates would impose limits on the amount of money political parties and leaders can donate to candidates.
But on Friday, Johnson, who was born and raised in Virginia, told Progress Illinois that it’s his experiences as a business entrepreneur and father that set him apart from Mitchell.
“I’ve been rooted in the community 15 years, living in the South Loop for 10 years, been married for eight years. I’ve got two children that go to school in the community. I’ve been a business owner for 10 years,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who previously owned the Little Gym, a children’s physical education center in the South Loop, also pointed to his three years working as an assistant to Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. back in the mid-1990s.
He said during that time working on an initiative that helped bring clean drinking water to Chicago’s south suburban Ford Heights showed him “how people wanted their representative to work for them.”
Though 16 years younger than his opponent, Mitchell said during a phone interview that his own government experiences working for Preckwinkle and his volunteer work on Burns’ 2008 campaign have helped him prepare for elected office.
“I got to see a great model of leadership,” Mitchell said. “Tony and Will are dedicated to the legwork of politics, to reading the bills and focusing on policy implications, and reforming government.”
Mitchell also said he helped draft a version of a bill that became law last year, which will create a universal fare card for riders of the Metra, CTA, and Pace transit systems by 2015.
If elected Mitchell said he’d vote for initiatives investing in healthcare technology, early childhood education, and green technology, but did not give specific examples of what those bills would look like.
“I believe we need more people who have a progressive vision, who have a history of getting things done in Springfield,” he said.
But how would the candidates vote on other progressive issues, such as a bill legalizing medical marijuana, which was narrowly defeated in the Illinois House last spring and now sits in legislative limbo?
Mitchell said he would vote in favor of legalizing medical marijuana for chronic pain sufferers because it “makes a lot of sense if it were tightly controlled.”
Johnson, however, took a more diplomatic approach to the question.
“I’m open to look at any proposal. I’m open to reviewing all possibilities out there, but I don’t want [medical marijuana] to be abused for recreational use,” Johnson said. “I have two sons, so I’ve got to look at things a bit differently.”
Although Mitchell may have more money and bigger political names in his corner, Johnson said he’s undeterred.
“While the cash does help, I’m not worried if [Mitchell] has more. We’ve got the resources to win,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be an old-fashioned street fight, and it’s going to come down to voter turnout. Forget the mailers and advertisements.”
Meanwhile, Mitchell said voters should be most concerned with his blue collar approach to government.
“You hear a lot of people talk about the rising cost of healthcare, tuition, not knowing where the next paycheck is coming from. Those aren’t abstractions for me. That has been my reality,” Mitchell said, referring to his single-parent upbringing. “Our policies have been divorced from the reality of what working-class people are going through, and that will not be an issue with me.”
Check back with Progress Illinois for updates on the 26th District primary race.
* The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this web site.